18 Sept 2023

West gallery quires and a Thomas Hardy novel

These days we are wont to think of church organs as traditional and worship bands as new, but in England during the 19th century it was just the opposite. Throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th, rural parish churches had their own west gallery quires, groups of amateur musicians who led the singing. There was nothing refined or high brow about this music. It was often quite rough. Too rough for the partisans of the Oxford Movement who preferred gregorian chant and a higher aesthetic.

The transition from west gallery quires to the organ was captured by the English author Thomas Hardy in his second published novel, Under the Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1872). Nancy and I recently saw a cinematic version of this, and last week I read the novel itself. Hardy's preface focusses on this transition, leading the reader to think it will be the major theme of the book:

25 Jul 2023

Psalm 1: Gilligan

This metrical psalm is obviously not a strict versification of the prose text, but an interpretation and a contextualization to boot, tailored to the seafarers and the generation that grew up watching television in the 1960s. If anything, it proves that even the versifiers of psalmody can have a sense of humour.

30 Jun 2023

Isaiah, Mighty Seer, in Days of Old

Singing the Psalms is an integral part of Christian worship. But we do well to sing other parts of the Bible in our liturgies too. Indeed, there is an ancient tradition of doing so, and some have claimed that the entire Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains musical notations for chanting. In 1526, nine years after he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Martin Luther published his Deutsche Messe, or German Mass, which was a reworking of the Latin rite in the German language. Rather than translating directly from Latin, Luther saw fit to elaborate on the songs in the ordinary of the mass, including the Sanctus. In its traditional form, the Sanctus runs as follows:

16 Jun 2023

Psalm 148 and the Benedicite omnia opera

The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (LXX), varies from the Hebrew in several respects, including entire books absent from the latter. These are known as Deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics and Apocrypha by Protestants. Included are additions to two books within the undisputed canon, namely, Esther and Daniel. One of the additions to Daniel comes in the third chapter, which recounts the episode in which the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar consigns three Hebrew young men, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, to the fiery furnace for not bowing down to the golden image that the king had set up. In the Hebrew version, the three young men simply emerge from the ordeal unscathed, much to the king's astonishment, but with little fanfare. In the Greek version, the author ascribes an entire canticle to the three youths which they sing during the ordeal. It is generally known by its first words in Latin, Benedicite omnia opera, about which I wrote 16 years ago, and in English as the Song of the Three Youths or the Song of the Three Holy Children.

31 May 2023

The Lord is my Shepherd: Psalm 23

Then there is Howard Goodall's lovely musical rendition of the ever popular 23rd Psalm, which provided the theme music for the British television comedy series, The Vicar of Dibley. The text and music provide a stark contrast to the rather irreverent tone of the series.

30 May 2023

Codex Early Music Ensemble: Psalm 68

Here once again is the Codex Early Music Ensemble giving Psalm 68 another shot:

29 May 2023

Codex Early Music Ensemble: Psalm 62 and 47

I'm coming to like the Codex Early Music Ensemble's performances of the Hungarian Psalms. Here are 62 and 47:

26 May 2023

Psalms 81 and 68: genfi zsoltár

The Hungarians are always coming up with surprisingly different ways to sing the Psalms. Here is the Codex Early Music Ensemble singing Psalms 81 and 68 at a rather fast pace, altering the rhythm of the original melodies.

25 May 2023

Psalms 90 and 91: genfi zsoltár

This is an unusually haunting performance of Genevan Psalms 90 and 91 in Hungarian. János Pálúr is the organist, and Sára Tímár is the soloist. The recording was made on 16 June 2022 in the Fasori Reformed Church in Budapest.

24 May 2023

Psaume 97 en français

Here is a recently posted recording of Psalm 97 sung in French, which comes from an old monophonic vinyl record released in 1957.

19 May 2023

Psalm 72 (71): another coronation psalm

Our new King is descended through his late father from the modern kings of Greece of the Danish Glücksburg line. Thus it is most appropriate that Orthodox priests chanted Psalm 72 (71 by the Septuagint numbering) at his recent coronation.

Here are the opening verses in Greek:

Ὁ Θεὸς, τὸ κρίμα σου τῷ βασιλεῖ δὸς
καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην σου τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ βασιλέως
κρίνειν τὸν λαόν σου ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ
καὶ τοὺς πτωχούς σου ἐν κρίσει.

And in English:

Give the king thy justice, O God,
and thy righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness,
and thy poor with justice!
A most appropriate psalm for the inauguration of a new ruler! God save the King!

Groen sang these psalms

In February I acquired a copy of the recently republished 1729 version of the Genevan Psalter. This version was adopted by the francophone churches of the Netherlands and differs from the original French text of 1562. A few days ago a friend reminded me that Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), an early leader in the Dutch anti-revolutionary movement and a predecessor of Abraham Kuyper, attended the Walloon church in The Hague, under the pastorate of Jean Charles Isaac Secrétan (1798-1875). Thus it is quite likely that this is the version of the Psalter from which he sang while worshipping with that congregation.

The Walloon Churches in the Netherlands have their origins in the religious conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries, when French-speaking refugees from the southern Netherlands (now Belgium) and France fled persecution in their homelands and settled in the largely protestant Dutch Republic in the north. There are far fewer Walloon congregations than in the past, and the remaining few form a special classis within the reunited Protestantse Kerk in Nederland.

16 May 2023

Make a Joyful Noise: coronation anthem

For the recent coronation of King Charles III, Andrew Lloyd Webber was commissioned to compose an anthem. Here it is below: a sung version of Psalm 98 from the venerable King James version of the Bible:

11 May 2023

An 18th-century Dutch psalter

I recently spent time with a friend who brought to our meeting an old Dutch-language edition of the Genevan Psalter published in 1776. The texts are the 1773 versifications commissioned by the Estates General of the United Netherlands, so they were still quite new when this volume was produced. Here are photographs of some of the pages. Note that the outer margins of the versified texts contain the prose text of the relevant psalm according to the Statenvertaling of 1637, a translation of the Bible approved by the Estates General which is analogous to our King James Version in English. Only the melody is included and is repeated for each stanza.

8 May 2023

Singing the Reformation 2016

I've recently come across the website for the Church Service Society, an organization founded in 1865 to renew worship in the Church of Scotland. This is the description of the Society's work from the page titled, History and Purpose

The Society published Euchologion in 1867, the first corporately produced service book available to the Kirk since John Knox’s Book of Common Order, and which continued through eleven editions up to 1924, until the Church itself (the main Presbyterian denominations reunited in 1929) took on the responsibility. Since then there has been increasing provision of worship resources in the Scottish churches. It might seem as if the vision of the founders had been amply fulfilled.

24 Apr 2023

CICW grant: completing the work of decades

I have some great news to share with respect to my ongoing Genevan Psalter project. But first a bit of background.

In 2021 and 2022 I received two back-to-back grants from the Stanford Reid Trust here in Canada to work on my project of setting the Psalms to verse to be sung to the proper Genevan tunes of the 16th century. The first grant enabled me to complete the versification of all 150 Psalms in August of two years ago. The second grant allowed me to pay Michael Owens, a professional musician and piano tuner in Denver, Pennsylvania, to format seventy of my texts to the excellent 20th-century arrangements of Jacques Pierre Bekkers and Jacob Kort. As the second grant was not sufficient to cover the cost of formatting all 150, I applied to the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship (CICW) for a Teacher-Scholar Grant to cover the remainder. Unfortunately, I received word that my project did not fit the parameters of this programme.

However, I am pleased to report that the publications team at CICW has offered to provide the full amount I had requested to complete the formatting for my English-language Genevan Psalter. This will enable Owens to format the remainder of the Psalms, which brings the collection a step closer to publication. I am grateful to God for his grace in giving me the time and resources to work on this project in my retirement. I am grateful to Owens for his enthusiasm for my work and his technical skills. And, of course, I am grateful to both the Reid Trust and the CICW for their financial support for my work.

I will keep readers informed of further developments as they occur. I would appreciate your prayers for the project's completion. Thanks so much!

13 Apr 2023

Kodály's Psalm 150 - 2022

This performance of Zoltán Kodály's arrangement of Psalm 150 took place in July 2022 and was posted last October:

22 Mar 2023

Lewis and Laurence on the imprecatory psalms

At The Gospel Coalition Trevin Wax has written on What C. S. Lewis Got Wrong About the Cursing Psalms. While Lewis's writings carry insights appreciated by generations of Christians, he nevertheless questioned the propriety of using the imprecatory psalms:

Lewis thought these psalms “devilish,” naive, “diabolical,” given to “pettiness” and “vulgarity.” He believed their “vindictive hatred” to be contemptible—full of “festering, gloating, undisguised” passions that can in no way be “condoned or approved.”

 As a corrective to Lewis, Wax recommends Trevor Laurence's new book, Cursing with God: The Imprecatory Psalms and the Ethics of Christian Prayer, published last November by Baylor University Press:

21 Mar 2023

Psalm 150: Sweelinck

Who could possibly tire of listening to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's choral arrangement of Psalm 150?

20 Mar 2023

Martha and the psalms of lament

Everyone remembers Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead as recounted in John 11. Although this episode is found in the New Testament, the dialogue between Jesus and Martha reflects the structure of the psalms of lament. This is the thesis of the late biblical scholar Gail R. O'Day in a remarkable article to which my wife alerted me last week, Martha: Seeing the Glory of God. (If you set up a free account, you can "borrow" this ebook for one hour.)